You may see wombats (Vombatus ursinus) on the open Buttongrass Moorlands around or near Dove Lake. While mainly nocturnal, these cute marsupials often come out in the late afternoon around Cradle Mountain to graze. Please do not pat them or feed them (and discourage others from doing the same). The large burrows you see around the park are the homes of these wombats in which they pass the warmer daytime hours in quiet slumber. You will see their characteristic cube-shaped poos on the edge of many boardwalks in the park. These little poo piles are territorial signposts! Wombats are common in this part of Tasmania. They are also found in similar ecosystems on the mainland (eg Snowy Mountains of NSW and VIC High Country).
You are likely to hear quite a few birds as you walk. One of the most noticeable will be the Black Currawong, a Tasmanian endemic (ie found only in Tasmania) ? a relative of the Pied Currawong on the mainland. These large black birds with their strong beaks and piercing yellow eyes are found in a range of habitats and make loud, noisy, trumpet-like calls, often in flight. One guidebook describes these calls as “a rollicking, wailing, yet rather musical ‘kiarr-weeik, weeik ? yarr’, also short metallic croaks”. These birds are common in the LSC and Cradle Mountain area. Some will be quite bold and want to share your lunch! Please don’t feed the wildlife.
Tasmanian Pademelons (Thylogale billardierii) are medium-sized wallabies that are common around the Lake St Clair Lodge. They prefer the dense vegetation of rainforests, tea-tree scrub and heathland, but are also found in drier woodlands with damp gullies or patches of dense vegetation. They are found only in Tasmania. These little pademelons should not be confused with substantially-larger Bennett’s Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus). They are known as Red-Necked Wallabies on the mainland where they also occur. They are widespread across much of Tasmania.
Tasmanian Devils are challenging to spot in the wild here, as they are in small numbers but also because they are largely nocturnal. But if you have time the Tasmanian Devil Centre or conservation sanctuary is well worth a visit. The Devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial weighing in at 10kg. The Tasmanian Tiger the Thylacine was the largest, but it was hunted to extinction. It is a solitary creature and is capable of crushing bones as it has powerful jaws. They will eat just about anything including insects, possums, even small wallabies and wombats.
Depending on which month you are walking, different plants will be in flower in these moorland areas. In December, you will find Scoparia (Richea scoparia), Rigid Candleheath (Richea spregelioides) and Pandani (Richea pandanifolia) in flower. The latter like to have their feet wet and often grow on river banks. The beautiful colours of flowering scoparia include reds, pinks, yellows and whites. There is a lot of information on these plants and more in the LSC Visitor Centre if you inend on visiting here.
Spring wildflowers in early December may include: Bright red Tasmanian Waratahs (Telopea truncata), delicate pink or white Wiry Bauera or Dog Roses (Bauera rubiodes), and the creamy ‘paintbrush’ flowers of the Rigid Candleheath (Richea sprengelioides). If you are here later in the summer, other species will be in flower. There is always something beautiful to see.
If you are here in early December, you will find pink mountain berry bushes and beautiful waratahs in flower. The forest is dominated by Myrtle Beech (known as Antarctic Beech on the mainland). The new season’s growth is first red-orange, then turns light green, and finally becomes the same dark green as the adult leaves. There are also dead logs on the sides of the track covered with mosses and lichens.
Ancient Myrtle Beech trees festooned in moss tower majestically from a moss strewn forest floor. The effect is stunning and reminiscent of an ancient cathedral or grand ballroom, hence the name.
Did you notice the small ‘bonsai’ beech trees growing in rocky areas around Dove Lake? These are endemic Deciduous Beech Trees (Nothofagus gunnii). They are the only native Australian tree with leaves that change colour and fall completely each Autumn. They are commonly referred to simply as “Fagus”. Many people travel especially to Cradle Mountain at the end of April each year to enjoy the sight of the Fagus autumn colours. These stunted trees are only ever 1.5 – 5m tall, depending on the severity of the conditions where they grow.
Buttongrass Moorland (sometimes called Buttongrass Plains). This vegetation community is dominated by grass-like sedges and heathy shrubs, and is found in marshy, nutrient-poor areas. The most typical species here are clumps of what is commonly known as ‘buttongrass’ (Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus), a type of sedge. It’s the flowering seed head “buttons” of this sedge that give rise to its common name. These moorlands are one of the most fire-adapted ecosystems to have evolved in Australia. You may hear something that sounds like lambs bleating in the buttongrass. This is the call of the Tasmanian Froglet (Crinia tasmaniensis) – a small frog only 30mms long that is found only in Tasmania. Wombats are often seen feeding in this area in the early morning and late afternoon – evening.
Cushion Plants: These bright-green mounds are made up of many individual plants from several different species, all living together in a tightly-packed community to help them cope with icy winds and prolonged snow. The insulating effects of the mound raise the temperature within, helping prevent the plants’ water supply from freezing. The rounded cushion shape also provides a defence against cold winds. You can gently touch the mounds to get a feel for how solid they are. In the NZ alpine zone, such plants are referred to as “vegetable sheep”. Though these plants seem tough, a single step from a hiker’s boot can fracture the mound leaving the plants vulnerable to wind and cold. It can take up to 30 years for a Cushion Plant to recover from a boot print. Watch your step!
Reindeer Moss Lichen: This is a pale-coloured lichen (a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga) that grows in extensive patches on the forest floor and looks a bit like miniature trees. In fact, it is often used by model train enthusiasts as “trees” in the mini-train landscapes that they build! This lichen is found worldwide, mainly in alpine tundra areas. It is very cold tolerant, and as the name suggests, is eaten by reindeer (caribou) in the northern boreal forests. It is slow-growing (3 – 11 mm per year) and takes a very long time to regenerate if trampled.
King Billy Pine (Arthrotaxis selaginoides) Endemic to Tasmania, these trees can grow to 40 m tall (as per this splendid specimen in front of you) but are often stunted and twisted in high exposed places. They are found in valleys and rainforest areas in the western and central mountains, often in association with Myrtle Beeches. A valuable commercial timber with straight-grained, durable wood that is pink in colour and easily worked. Prized for window frames and boatbuilding. Note that while the info sign suggests that Tasmania is the only place in the Southern Hemisphere that trees belonging to this family (the Cupressaceae – Cedars) occur, New Zealand actually also has two endemic cedar species. Tasmania’s endemic Pencil Pines (A. cupressoides) which you see along the Rainforest Circuit, and in several other spots in the Cradle Mountain area, are closely related to the King Billy Pine.